Contributor: John Dudley
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Collectors raged and mocked Topps Series 2 when its initial checklist came out, but some surprise SPs and autos of three of the most hyped rookies make the product intriguing again. Topps included SPs of Julio Rodriguez, Bobby Witt Jr., and Spencer Torkelson much to the delight of dealers and anyone who pre-ordered Topps Series 2. These are destined to be highly sought-after cards and join the growing legacy of Topps SPs. It’s a good time to step back and explore the SP concept and its place in the hobby. I should note that the discussion below focuses on Topps Flagship, but other Topps products include SPs in their own ways.
What is a Topps SP?
Sellers bandy about the term “SP” with abandon, but the SPs in Topps Series 2 are the latest in a line of Topps Image Variation SPs. SP simply means short print and is reserved for cards that are inserted at a lower rate than the others. Topps began dabbling with SPs in 2007 with the Derek Jeter/George W. Bush/Mickey Mantle Image variation. Topps played with the SP format for a few years after that, but 2013 Topps Series 2 introduced SP and SSP rookies. Even though collectors sought out SPs of veteran players, the introduction of rookies made them take off in the hobby.
Most Topps SPs use image variations. Sometimes the difference in images is immediately noticeable as the image might change from vertical to horizontal or even feature a different player. Other times small differences can go overlooked. While Topps often inserts SPs backward in packs making them easy to identify, it is not always the case. Topps does include a foolproof way to identify SPs by including codes on the back of cards that are unique to each set or type of card. All the base cards have the same code, as do SPs, SSPS, and SSSPs respectively.
SSPs and SSSPs are simply even shorter printed and rarer. While no exact print runs are known, common estimates for recent sets peg the SPs at approximately 3000 copies, SSPs at 300, and SSSPs under 30. They have become increasingly tough to pull as the SP print run has held steady while the base print run has greatly increased.
SPs and Rookies
SPs originally appealed to set collectors and player collectors. They still do, but by adding rookies Topps greatly expanded the SP collecting population. SPs often end up as one of a player’s most popular rookies. They get the allure of being part of the Flagship while adding a healthy dose of scarcity. It’s a winning combination for sure.
The Topps Series 2 SPs of Julio Rodriguez, Bobby Witt Jr, and Spencer Torkelson. join an exclusive club of players with an SP before having a regular base rookie. This distribution method fuels demand as collectors identify the SP image as “THE” Topps rookie card of that player. Cards like Acuna’s Bat Down RC have reached iconic status due to it being his “first” Topps rookie. This should bode well for the future of these cards and collectors agree with early pricing put J. Rod at roughly $325, Witt Jr. at $225, and Torkelson at $100. Not too shabby at all for a product though to be a dud just a couple of weeks ago.
Top 5 Topps SPs
To see what the future might hold for these cards, let’s check out the Top 5 Topps SP cards by value. A few caveats. First, I only included one card per player and only SPs. No SSP or SSSPs here. Second, I used graded pricing which might have Wander Franco a bit inflated until his pop count increases and it also meant that I excluded several 2021 SPs that have oddly high sales, but only one or two cards sold. Finally, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and a few others have SP rookies that were inserted at higher rates as they were meant as late additions more so than traditional SPs. The higher print runs on these keep the prices lower.
1. Juan Soto 2018 Topps Update #US300- Last Sale $1750
Soto and Acuna Jr. flip flop for the top spot and will likely continue to do so for the next few years. Tatis Jr. could have joined in the fun, but Topps missed the boat on including him as an SP.
2. Ronald Acuna Jr. Topps #698- Last Sale $1650
Arguably the most recognizable SP, Acuna Jr.’s card is a must-have for fans. Acuna Jr. is bouncing back nicely from his injury and the card has traded for over $2000 previously.
3. Wander Franco 2022 Topps #215 – Last Sale $481
While an impressive placement for the rookie, the first few sales of this card were for over $1000 which shows the value in being first to market. This sale is substantially lower than other recent sales inn the $550-$750 range and it remains to be seen if this is a blip or a trend.
4. Aaron Judge 2017 Topps #287- Last Sale $449
Judge is heating up and this might be one of the last times you see this under $500.
5. Shohei Ohtani 2018 Topps #700- Last Sale $400
Going the other way, Ohtani is down substantially from historical highs, but starting to trend back up.
The list goes to show just how special that 2018 class is with three of the top spots and Devers selling close to $200. The pricing should give one pause when considering the 2022 Series 2 guys though. Early raw pricing looks more in line with what PSA 10 copies of these cards will likely get in the future.
Topps SPs are great rookie cards to target as they have the Topps pedigree and low print runs. Be sure to do your homework before jumping in though as the SP world can be labyrinthine. Whether or not J.Rod, Witt, and Tork have their cards mentioned with the reverence reserved for a “Bat Down” depends largely on their play, but they’ve certainly turned a product once destined for the clearance aisle into a more desirable rip.